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LITERARY    LIFE                          247
appropriately learn the A B Cs from Norma Shearer or Ruth Chatterton. When he holds a whip and pretends to be riding on horseback or when he plays at paddling a boat, his acting is neither better nor worse than that of my five-year-old daughter who plays at horse-riding by trailing a bamboo stick between her thighs.
If we study the construction of the Yuan and subsequent dramas, we shall find that the plot, as with Western operas, is often of the flimsiest character, the dialogue unimportant, while the songs occupy the centre of the play. In actual performances, very often popular selections from the operas, rather than the entire plays, are given, in the same manner that operatic selections are rendered in Western musical concerts. The audience knows the stories by heart, and the characters are recognized by their conventional masks and costumes rather than by the contents of the dialogue. The first Yuan dramas, as we see them in extant works of the masters, consisted, with a few exceptions, of four acts. The songs in each act were sung to a definite set of tunes in a well-known musical suite. The dialogues were unimportant, and in many existing copies they are left out, which is probably because the dialogue part was largely spoken extempore.
In the so-called "northern dramas" the songs in each act were sung by the same person, although many actors took part in the acting and the spoken dialogue (a limitation probably due to the scarcity of singing talent). In the "southern dramas'* the limitations of dramatic technique were much less rigid; there was a great deal more freedom, and from these dramas were evolved the longer plays which in the Ming Dynasty were known as ctiuanchi. The number of acts (corresponding in length to the "scenes" in English plays) was no longer limited "to four, different rhymes could be used in songs of the same act, several singers could sing in alternation or in unison in the same act, and the tunes themselves were different from those used in the northern dramas, being of the type which gives long modulations over single syllables.
Of such dramas, the Western Chamber (Hsihsiang) and Autumn in the Han Palace (Hank\mgcKiuy portraying the story of the exiled imperial concubine Chao Chan), may be taken as